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Lest we forget: what the Catholic Church teaches about racism

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 03/15/17

A lot of attention has been focused on recent remarks by Rep. Steve King:

Since Mr. King’s election to the House in 2002, and before that in the State Legislature, where he first tried out his English-only trademark talking point, Mr. King, a Republican, has injected himself into the immigration debate with inflammatory and at times boorish statements.

Against the backdrop of an emboldened white nationalist movement in the United States, his Twitter post over the weekend — “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” — suggested that Mr. King was sliding from his typical messages to something far darker. It was praised by both the white supremacist David Duke and The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.

…While Mr. King has also left room for rape victims, eco-friendly light bulbs, the District of Columbia and other topics in his incendiary outbursts on Twitter, television and the House floor, his most memorable droplets of disdain have been for unauthorized immigrants, most notably Mexicans who he once proclaimed had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling drugs across the border.

But except for the 2013 fruit analogy — which led John A. Boehner, the speaker at the time, to publicly chastise Mr. King and privately make a decidedly less nice body-part analogy about him to aides — Republicans have largely written off Mr. King as a fringe player in legitimate policy debates.

“Remarks of this nature are always deplorable no matter the political climate in our country,” Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, said in an email. “One of the president’s recurring themes and messages is that all Americans bleed the same red blood despite our great diversity. Mr. King’s sentiment directly contradicts this idea.”

I was curious about Rep. King’s religious background and was surprised to read this on his Wikipedia page:

He is married to Marilyn, with whom he has three children. Raised a Methodist, King attended his wife’s Catholic church, converting 17 years after marrying her.

This seems, then, an opportune moment to remind ourselves about an important teaching of the Catholic Church. St. John Paul II wrote in 1988: “Racism and racist acts must be condemned,” adding:

All forms of discrimination must be firmly opposed. It would be hypocritical to point a finger at only one country: rejection based on race exists on every continent. Many practice a discrimination in fact which they abhor in law. Respect for every person and every race is respect for basic rights, dignity and fundamental equality.

The U.S. bishops, moreover, have written extensively on what they bluntly label the sin of racism:

Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.”  Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.

In order to find the strength to overcome the evil of racism, we must look to Christ. In Christ Jesus “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freedom, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.”  As Pope John Paul II has said so clearly, “Our spirit is set in one direction, the only direction for our intellect, will and heart is — toward Christ our Redeemer, toward Christ the Redeemer of [humanity.]” It is in Christ, then, that the Church finds the central cause for its commitment to justice, and to the struggle for the human rights and dignity of all persons. When we give in to our fears of the other because he or she is of a race different from ourselves, when we prejudge the motives of others precisely because they are of a different color, when we stereotype or ridicule the other because of racial characteristics and heritage, we fail to heed the command of the Prophet Amos: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; then truly will the Lord… be with you as you claim!… Then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.”

You can read more here. 

It’s also worth noting that some theologians have pressed to have racism formally declared an intrinsic evil—on a par with abortion, slavery and torture.

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